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Funding not meeting demand for post-partum help: society

Liz Boyd was able to overcome post partum depression after the birth of both her children with help from the Pacific Post Partum Support Society. The society is facing a funding crisis as demands for its services grow. - MARIO BARTEL/NEWSLEADER
Liz Boyd was able to overcome post partum depression after the birth of both her children with help from the Pacific Post Partum Support Society. The society is facing a funding crisis as demands for its services grow.
— image credit: MARIO BARTEL/NEWSLEADER

For Liz Boyd, knowing there would be a live voice on the other end of the phone line was a godsend.

The Burnaby resident had given birth to her second child, a daughter, and was referred to the Pacific Post Partum Support Society.

A few months after her first child, a son, was born four years ago, Boyd realized something was wrong.

"I was crying all the time, I felt like I was in a fog," recalled Boyd, now 35. "If I would get a moment to myself I couldn't stop crying, I was really unhappy."

She knew it wasn't just the effects of sleep deprivation and the crash course in parenthood that all new moms experience. They made the symptoms worse, but they weren't the underlying reason she felt the way she did.

A public health nurse referred her to see a post-partum counsellor at Burnaby Hospital's mental health unit. That helped, as did her return to work and a steady daily routine.

But 10 weeks into her pregnancy with her daughter, Boyd noticed the symptoms creeping up again.

She suffered anxiety, she found it difficult to go to work. And she felt isolated. That's not unusual as mental health issues often carry a stigma, making it difficult for people to talk openly about them.

This time, she sought help right away, first with her obstetrician, then with the Reproductive Mental Health unit at St. Paul's Hospital where her daughter was born 18 months ago.

It was there that she was diagnosed with post-partum depression and referred to the Pacific Post Partum Support Society. At the time, the society had just started up a new support group in Burnaby.

"As soon as that appointment finished I raced home and called them and said, 'I want to get on your waiting list, I need help.'"

•••••

The Burnaby-based Pacific Post Partum Support Society has been around for more than 40 years.

In some ways, they've become a victim of their own success.

Government funding increased by about seven per cent between its 2012-2013 fiscal year, when it handled 4,491 calls for telephone support, and its current one, said the society's director, Sheila Duffy.

But in the first six months of this year, the calls it received from people in the Fraser Health region jumped 30 per cent higher than the same period the year before, Duffy said.

Along with phone support, the society offers support groups, consultations with health care providers and education workshops.

All on a budget of $360,000 and eight part-time staff and a team of trained volunteers.

Duffy credits the increase in calls to a provincial strategy to boost awareness of and supports for post-partum depression. But while Vancouver Coastal Health Authority provides about $40,000 to fund programs in that area, Fraser Health's funding of about $11,000 hasn't kept up with the demand for services.

The society has increased the amount of private donations it receives in recent years. That money now makes up 49 per cent of its funding, compared to 38 per cent two years ago.

But with a private three-year grant soon coming to an end, a $40,000-hole will be left in its budget unless other sources can be found.

And so it has had to make some cuts.

It ended outreach work at mom-and-baby groups and last fall, it shut down its Burnaby support group.

Duffy stressed its core services are being maintained as "phone support is a huge part of what we do."

And they never turn people away when they call, she said. Thanks to their website, they've occasionally received calls from moms seeking help from as far away as Sweden and Florida.

Duffy said when women don't seek help for their post-partum depression, it can have wide-ranging impacts.

It can affect a mom's bonding with her baby, as well as marriages and relationships. It can lead to suicidal thoughts and feelings or more chronic cases of depression.

She said a big part of what the society does is help figure out solutions.

"When you come to us it's like dumping out a jigsaw puzzle … We work together until all the pieces start to fall into place."

But that will have to happen without more money from Fraser Health.

"Fraser Health is unable to augment our current funding but will continue to provide funds to PPPSS as a community service to our clients," said Fraser Health spokesperson Nafisa Abdulla.

She noted that the society is just one way people can get support if they're experiencing anxiety or depression during their pregnancy or after the birth of a child.

Fraser Health provides those services under its Best Beginnings program. For new moms, public health nurses provide referrals to supports which include the mental health units at local hospitals.

Burnaby-Lougheed NDP MLA Jane Shin finds the lack of funding for the society, whose office is in her riding, frustrating.

"The work they do is incredibly vital," said Shin, who added when people don't address such issues it can lead to bigger problems, and social costs, down the road.

She contrasted that with the BC Liberals increasing the size of its cabinet, with related pay raises, after it won the last provincial election.

"From where I stand it doesn't make sense."

•••••

As for Liz Boyd, she was disappointed to hear the Burnaby support group was cancelled shortly after she left it.

After her daughter was born, her anxiety was so strong she didn't leave the house with the two kids unless they had an appointment.

But wanting to "tackle this issue head on," she made the effort to be with other moms in the same situation.

"My parents' generation, that's not something they would talk about openly," Boyd said.

It was "totally a relief" the first time she attended one of the group's meetings. "It was a relief to know that you're not alone and a lot of other women have gone through this and you will get through it.

"And it's not something that you choose, it's just how it is. It's just the cards that have been dealt to you, but there is a way to help you work through that time in your life."

In between meetings, telephone support was available whenever she needed someone to talk to about her feelings, or to vent.

"I remember sitting on the phone and just wanting someone else to hear me cry," Boyd said, choking back tears at the memory.

"Thank god Pacific Post Partum was there because I don't know where I'd be."

• To donate to Pacific Post Partum Support Society, call 604-255-7955 or visit http://www.postpartum.org/.

wchow@burnabynewsleader.com

twitter.com/WandaChow

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